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Bush encroachment under three contrasting land-use practices in a mesic South African savanna

by B J Wigley, W J Bond, M T Hoffman
African Journal of Ecology ()

Abstract

This study determined the effects of land-use practice had on the rate and extent of bush encroachment in a mesic savanna in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Changes in woody cover were measured for 1 km(2) sites in areas under communal, commercial and conservation land-use systems for the period between 1937 and 2000. Land users from each area were interviewed to gain the histories of each area and to determine how the changes in woody cover had impacted them and whether anything was being done to counteract the spread of trees and shrubs on their land. Bush encroachment occurred across all three of the land-use types in the 67-year period between 1937 and 2000. The results showed that land-use practice had enormous impacts on the process of bush encroachment. The communal site showed a decrease in grass (21%) and tree (5%) cover and an increase in shrub cover (13%). At the commercial site, there was a considerable decrease in grass cover (46%) and moderate increase in shrub cover (10%) and a massive increase in tree cover (36%). The area under conservation showed a substantial decrease in grass cover (47%), a slight decrease in shrub cover (19%) and a massive increase in tree cover (66%). The perceived causes of these changes were fairly similar amongst the different land users. The changes were mostly not perceived to be a problem for the communal land users. The main advantages mentioned were increased woody resources for building and firewood and increased browse availability. The commercial and conservation land users perceived the changes to have significant negative connotations including the loss of grazing land and biodiversity and secondary invasion of encroached areas by alien plant species. Despite these perceptions, very little has been done to combat bush encroachment in the commercial and conservation land use systems.

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